May 29, 2022

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Driving By Numbers: Canada’s 10 best-selling auto brands in 2021

The 10 top-selling marques generated seven out of every 10 new vehicle sales

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Among the dozens of automobile brands participating in the Canadian auto market, the 10 top-selling marques generated seven out of every 10 new vehicle sales in the country in 2021. These are major entities, cumulatively responsible for delivering nearly 1.2 million cars, SUVs, trucks, crossovers, and vans even in a relatively small market during a remarkably challenging year.

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The depth of the global supply chain crisis — a lack of microchips is only part of the story — nevertheless led to disappointing results for manufacturers that began the year anticipating booming demand. The demand was there, the vehicles were not. Dealer lots sat empty for much of the year, particularly in the second-half.

The inventory crunch wasn’t enough to stop 2021 from being a strong year by historical standards — only 10 were ever better. With few vehicles to sell, manufacturers pulled incentives and average transaction prices soared, leading to improved dealer profitability despite the fact that sales volume fell more than 300,000 vehicles short of all-time highs.

Of course, the tendency toward rising transaction prices didn’t stem only from the dearth of available new vehicles. Car buyers are increasingly not car buyers — they’re buyers of more costly crossovers and pickups. Fewer than one in five new vehicles sold was a traditional passenger car in 2021.

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In fact, Canada’s top-selling brand relied on cars for only 2 per cent of its total sales. How, then, was the highest-volume automobile brand able to secure the top spot? And what allowed Canada’s nine other top-selling brands to end the year among the favourites?

10. Mazda: 62,201, up 8 per cent

2021 didn’t end in the most pleasant of fashions for Mazda. December sales plunged 53 per cent, including a 75 per cent decrease in CX-30 sales and a 79 per cent drop in CX-9 volume. Over the course of the year, though, Mazda was hot. Mazda’s 53 per cent first-half surge far exceeded the industry’s 33 per cent uptick. In 2022, Mazda drops the 6 from its car lineup but adds the CX-50 to its family of utility vehicles.

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9. Ram: 76,996, down 12 per cent

Powered almost exclusively by Canada’s second-best-selling line of vehicles, the Ram truck lineup, Stellantis’s Ram brand generates just under half of the company’s Canadian sales. With minivans increasingly filling only a small niche in the market, Stellantis (which you used to know as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Chrysler Group, DaimlerChrysler, etc.) leans primarily on these Ram trucks and Jeeps to do the heavy lifting. (Jeep is Canada’s 12th-best-selling brand.) Besides the 73,467 Ram pickups sold in Canada in 2021, Ram also sold 3,008 ProMaster and 521 ProMaster City commercial vans.

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV
2022 Kia Sorento PHEV Photo by Renita Naraine

8. Kia: 79,198, up 9 per cent

Kia didn’t have the necessary stock of its best-selling products, namely the Seltos and Sorento, to end 2021 as Canada’s fastest-growing brand. (That was the feat Kia accomplished in 2020.) Kia did, however, product a record number of vehicle sales in 2021. Kia broke its own monthly records in 7 of 2021’s 12 months. Although dealers were short on the Seltos, it was still the brand’s best seller at 14,436 united.

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7. GMC: 80,063, up 2 per cent

If only GMC’s full-size trucks were able to match demand as well as GMC’s full-size SUVs. The Yukon and Yukon XL reported huge year-over-year gains, earning 8,338 sales, double last year’s total. Unable to build inventory, GMC still sold 53,757 Sierra pickups, a modest 4 per cent gain. In total, across midsize and full-size trucks and two brands, GM Canada sold 115,878 pickups in 2021, 53 per cent of the 217,475 total GM products sold.

6. Nissan: 92,567, up 12 per cent

Are Nissan’s troubles all in the past? The disastrous financials and disgraced former CEO are in the rearview mirror now that Nissan’s found hits with the Kicks and new Rogue. Nissan even bucked a major trend by finding major growth with cars in 2021: the Sentra jumped 47 per cent, Versa sales rose to nearly 3,000, and the overall car branch posted an 11 per cent uptick. Yet the Rogue and Kicks are Nissan’s vital components. Together, their 48,676 sales generated more than half of the brand’s volume.

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5. Chevrolet: 108,786, down 3 per cent

Sorely limited by poor selection of its prized pickup trucks, General Motors’ top brand was further depressed by a nonexistent Equinox lineup (which went un-built for months) and a no-sale Q4 for the previously hot-selling electric Bolt. The supply crisis didn’t stop GM from selling pickups, mind you. Demand for full-size trucks is strong — customers still managed to drive away in 51,684 Silverados, down just 2 per cent from 2020. How many Silverados could GM have sold if dealers had stock? Silverado volume plunged 32 per cent in the final three months of the year compared with the end of 2020.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N
2022 Hyundai Elantra N Photo by Elliot Alder

4. Hyundai: 131,179, up 15 per cent

In accordance with industry norms, Hyundai had its fair share of struggles in 2021. Those struggles simply didn’t seem terribly apparent in the first-half of the year, when Hyundai bolted out of the gate with a 43 per cent surge in 2021’s first-half. Hyundai’s hot production launch cycle — including performance models such as the Elantra N and Kona N along with hot electrics such as the Ioniq 5 — garner the headlines. Hyundai’s growth, naturally, comes from the popularity of its utility vehicles, including the Tucson and more ho-hum versions of the Kona.

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3. Honda: 131,254, up 4 per cent

The gap between Honda and its primary compatriot rival widened substantially in 2021 just as the space between Honda’s bronze medal position and falling off the podium narrowed to the slimmest of margins. Honda is still able to claim its prized position: the Civic ended 2021 as Canada’s best-selling car for a 24th consecutive year. But will Honda’s modest growth allow it to be in this lofty third position when we create a new version of this list one year from now?

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime2. Toyota: 199,308, up 17 per cent

In 2021, for the first time ever, Toyota became America’s best-selling auto brand. Reclaiming the No.1 spot in Canada, earned by Toyota in 2008, didn’t prove quite as easy. Among top-tier brands, Toyota’s growth rate coming out of a disastrous 2020 was second-best at 17 per cent (equal to 28,710 additional sales) thanks in no small part to hybrids. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids accounted for 55,886 of Toyota’s nearly 200,000 sales.

1. Ford: 235,915, up 2 per cent

For the 13th consecutive year, the Ford F-Series is Canada’s best-selling line of vehicles. The F-Series accounts for half of the Ford brand’s sales. As the full-size trucks go, so goes Ford. 2021 is also the 13th consecutive year in which Ford ended the year as Canada’s top brand. Despite only selling only 5,146 passenger cars (4,224 of which were Mustangs), Ford outsold its nearest rival by more than 36,000 units, or roughly the number of units sold by the Explorer, Expedition, Bronco, and Bronco Sport.

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